AMP test under fire due to delays, concerns over usefulness

Nov 12, 2015

Draft legislation calls for the repeal of AMP, which a group of district superintendents say is not meeting schools' needs. 

Alaska Education Commissioner Mike Hanley has said the AMP results represent a new, higher baseline for Alaska students, but also that he's not satisfied with the delivery of data from the contractor AAI. Photo taken February 2015.
Credit Skip Gray/360 North

According to the Alaska Measures of Progress test results, less than half of Alaskan students meet educational standards. But distress over those numbers is just one part of AMP’s troubles.

Reporting delays and issues with the test’s format have some superintendents and lawmakers calling for an end to the new annual [test], and as KDLG’s Hannah Colton reports, the state’s Department of Education isn’t happy either.

On Monday, Alaska Education Commissioner Mike Hanley framed the less-than-stellar AMP scores as a helpful new baseline that raises the bar for Alaska students. But when asked about the way the test was administered, his answer was not so rosy:

“I’m not happy. I’m not satisfied with the way the data was rolled out.”

The state has a five-year, $25-million-dollar contract with the Kansas-based Achievement and Assessment Institute, or AAI, to develop and score the new AMP tests.

Reporting glitches caused weeks of delays in getting scores out this fall. AAI said recently that that some of the problems are related Alaska-specific challenges and the switch from paper-and-pencil to online testing, and that they should’ve been better prepared.

But from Hanley’s end, the delays have added to overall lack of confidence in AMP.

“After going through the process, you pick the vendor you think is going to work the best," said Hanley. "We have to look and see if that’s still the case. Is this the best vendor, and how do we move forward?”

The technical glitches are one thing, but other concerns are being raised as well. In October a group of 20 district superintendents wrote a letter the state board of education, questioning the usefulness of the test itself:

“The test results don’t tell us enough to work with students.”

Dillingham Superintendent Danny Frazier was one of the 20 who signed. Frazier says the AMP results don’t give teachers detailed enough information about their students’ learning.

“Say that a child was having difficulty in reading," says Frazier. "Well, where are they having difficulty? Is it comprehension? It is word recall? Is it phonetics? We’re just unable to tell from the test how we could remediate a student and help them learn better.”

Frazier says another letter is in the works in which he believes superintendents will call for abandoning this test altogether.  If so, that will be in line with a bill that Rep. Jim Colver, R-Palmer, says he’s drafting, calling for the repeal of AMP.

Rep. Jim Colver, R-Palmer, has drafted a bill that would repeal the AMP test. Photo taken April 2015.
Credit Skip Gray/360 North

“In other words, quit doing this, it’s too expensive, we don’t get usable data, and it’s burning up a lot of instruction time and admin expenses for little value," said Colver. "All we’ve done is said to our districts that a little more than half of them are doing a good job. How does that empower? How does that move us forward?”

Colver says he’d like to see AMP replaced with a nationally standardized test, such as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests used currently in some districts and elsewhere as a benchmarking tool.

Commissioner Hanley says making changes isn’t so easy.

“I’m not sold on this vendor, I’m not sold on having one test for everybody," said Hanley. "But we do have to follow the laws that are in place.”

Annual testing is required by law. If the state were to shop for a new vendor, working through the procurement process could leave Alaska schools without a test next year. That would be … complicated, says Hanley.

“Federally, we’re required to have a test," explained Hanley. "So, what would that mean? I’ll also be talking to U.S. Department of Education to say 'we need to make a change, we’re in a tough spot, we need a waiver for a year' – to see if we can get that without putting our federal money at risk.”

The easiest thing, according to Commissioner Hanley, would be to make sure AMP gets fixed.  He said he plans to meet with the AAI, the contractor, to discuss soon. Separately, Hanley says he’ll be meeting with a working group of concerned superintendents next week to talk over the other options.  

Contact the author at hannah@kdlg.org.